One-on-One: Navdeep Bains and John Manley on innovation

VIDEO: Diversity, talent, immigration and picking winners are all keys to a better innovation culture in Canada, minister says

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Singh Bains sat down with John Manley, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada.

Notable quotes

Talent “should be our number one focus.”
Bains called it the “number one issue” in terms of the government’s overall economic agenda, and a “key ingredient.” This includes developing talent domestically, but also attracting talent from abroad: “Immigration is a key part of talent acquisition.” Another element is making sure talented individuals don’t leave the country for other high-tech sectors.

“We say diversity is our strength”
Bains said there was a reluctance in some quarters of Canada toward the country’s immigration policy. He said “we say diversity is our strength” but admitted “we still get pushback” when they survey Canadians. The government needs to “change the conversation” and do a better job at explaining how immigration creates jobs, rather than takes them away, he said. Bains said immigration success stories need to be put front and centre. “We need to highlight them more, we need to brag about them more.”

Disruptive tech are “emerging technologies”
The government is looking to work with the private sector on “emerging technologies” and seeing if it can take a leadership role in some of the more disruptive tech taking place across the economy, Bains said.

“We do a really good job of starting up companies”
Echoing other speakers at the summit, Bains said “we do a really good job of starting up companies” but a “poor job” of scaling up.

Avoid the “peanut butter approach”
Another strategy Bains mentioned that was widely shared amongst summit commentators was avoiding the so-called peanut butter approach, where money is spread evenly across all sectors instead of targeted. Instead Bains is looking at creating an “ecosystem” or a “cluster network strategy.”

“Competition is so critical”
Summit speakers discussed how innovation is spurred on by competition. Bains said “competition is so critical to create that environment” where businesses are taking more risks.

“Lifelong learning”
Bains has focused on long-term challenges to the country’s economic future, chiefly its aging population. He suggested a focus on coding and more work-integrated learning. It’s all about “lifelong learning,” he said.

“Our approach so far demonstrates our desire to collaborate”
In response to a question about getting smaller companies into the global supply chain, Bains said the government was already working with industry, civil society, academia and international partners. “Everyone needs to work together,” he said, discussing clusters as one way to create conditions for collaboration. “Can we create something in Canada like DARPA?”